It’s not rugby without ‘energy bursting from the sidelines’ 00:00

Sports in Society Fueled by fans

It's not rugby without 'energy bursting from the sidelines’

Fans are essential to the sports experience. Across the country, courts, rinks, and fields fell silent as Covid-19 restrictions heightened. Athletes have found ways to cope but are eager to return to the game and to their most loyal supporters: the fans.

Did You Know? Tap to expand
The team identification–social psychological health model predicts that sport team identification leads to social connections which, in turn, result in well-being. Source: Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice

Yeja Dunn
You know, I had plenty of friends that would come out to games, and they’d be like, I have no idea what is happening. But I love watching it. I just love yelling when I don’t even know I’m supposed to yell. I don’t know if it’s bad, or it’s good. I just want to yell at it because it’s happening. And it’s so amazing. 

My name is Yeja Dunn, they/them pronouns and I am from Boston, Massachusetts.

Stephanie Rodriguez
The Beantown Rugby Football Club is Boston’s premier women’s rugby team. With six national championships under their belt, athletes on this team are strong, committed, and passionate. Their motto, Go Forward, Support!, not only captures the team’s position on issues like racial and gender equity, but it’s also the spirit in which they play. 

The athletes on this team are close. Like many of us, they spent most of 2020 connecting with each other virtually or socially distanced. If you don’t know much about rugby, know this – there is very little opportunity for distance. Players bulldoze, shove, and smash into each other for the chance at moving the ball forward. It’s no joke.     

Beantown hasn’t played a match in over a year – and no game means no fans. It’s hard to imagine rugby without that energy bursting from the sidelines. I spoke with Beantown President Yeja Dunn, who is hopeful about getting back to the field. 

Yeja Dunn: I play an eight-man, they call it, in rugby for Beantown Rugby Football Club.

My personality on the field has gotten me a gathering. One time I was walking after a game and I kind of had my team t-shirt on. They like stopped me and they’re like, Oh my god, I was just watching your game. I was watching you. And I was like, I don’t know what? I was so confused. I was so hungry. All I wanted to do was eat a burrito that I was so confused about, like what they were talking about. And I was like, Oh, my T-shirt. I’m like, Oh, yes. That was an amazing game was so fun to watch. I was like “Yeah.”

It happened a lot in school because I was on a small campus. But to have that experience happen, like, as a professional, like, off-campus. It was really unique and just very heartwarming. 

I’ve been playing sports my entire life, I would say. I picked up basketball, wrestling, volleyball, eventually track and field and throwing events. My high school had a rugby team and I had a friend on the team who was like, Oh, you should play but I was like, I don’t know. It seems weird. 

Yeja Dunn, right, during an Atlanta Harlequins vs Beantown match. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Barker)

I went to Dartmouth  College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Dartmouth is known for having this beautiful field called Brophy field, and an amazing clubhouse that’s attached to the field. So, I showed up there, like on a Saturday. It was just amazing to see it all laid out and to see the team take the field and begin the play. It was just such a physical game. 

You’re in scrums, which is pretty much when you bind up as eight people and the opposing team binds up as eight people, and you just kind of smash into each other.

In rugby positions are understood as one through 15; one and three are props, two is a hooker, four and five are locks, six, seven or flanks there’s eight-man. Then I have a scrum-half who’s nine into our backline which is 10 through 15. So it’s all related to like what you do in your position relates to what you’re going to do on the field.    

My coach in college played for Beantown, played on the U.S. national team. And when I was about to graduate, they’re like, you should go play for Beantown, like, it’s a good club. 

I’ve never looked back. I’m like year five, with the team. Although I guess this year was unexpected in many ways. 

We would have started our pre-season about mid-March, when the shutdown happened, rolling into kind of our first match would have been the first weekend of April. 

You know, that lockdown happened. And I just I think I knew pretty immediately that it wouldn’t have been possible for us to play just with the scope of what was happening. I personally kept track of the pandemic since I heard about it in December. So I knew what was happening in China so I was like, there’s just no way.

We knew for those that wanted to go to in-person sessions, that’s like just not everybody would be comfortable with that. And that makes a lot of sense. Like people have different risk levels, right, it’s about managing your risk, we didn’t want people to feel like there wasn’t an opportunity for them to engage with the team, which led to our virtual kind of sessions on Thursdays. 

Rugby IQ, we call it so watching game film, and really unpacking what these national teams are doing in terms of skill in terms of strategy on the field. 

You know, with Covid, that, you know, there’s a lot of Zoom fatigue, unlike a traditional season, which are always like on the same page, we know what we’re doing. It’s just everybody’s on different pages, right now, we have to respect that. So we really just wanted to create options for folks, in terms of how they can engage with the team.

I’m trying to think of all the conversations I’ve had in this time. And I think everybody does feel a little bit lost, a little aimless in some ways. For us, we’re a semi-pro team. So we make a pretty big commitment outside of other hobbies. Like, for some people, like I like to go to a climbing gym, or I like to run and we’re like, oh, yeah, we spend thousands of dollars and our weekends and three nights a week doing rugby. And so when that all kind of disappeared, I think we all just didn’t believe it for a really long time. And then coping, I think everybody coped with it differently. I think it was really hard about it we’re actually a really close team. And we’ve done a lot to stay involved virtually. But we’re really like an in-person group of people, I think we take energy from each other, all the time.

When the fall rolled back around, you know, based on what happened in the summer in Boston, we decided to do once-a-week in-person practices in pods. And that was the first time you got to really see each other as a team again. It was so nice to be able to run around, to, just be with the team again. I can’t stress that I was just like – didn’t realize there was a part of me that was missing it so much. 

I think we’re going to rebuild again. I think it’s gonna be so important to have everybody that was there before be there again. And I know it’s gonna be worth it. I think athletes thrive on fans and fans and athletes and I’m thinking about all the way down from the high school level to the collegiate to the senior team, it’s in NFL, as we are going to get back to it someway somehow, and, I’ll be there for them if they’re there for me. And I’m looking forward to that. 

Stephanie Rodriguez
For iPondr, I’m Stephanie Rodriguez.

Share your thoughts

Stephanie Rodriguez

Sports in Society

Abandoning offensive mascots

Stories left today Choose a subscription level (one is free) or login
Episode Fueled by fans